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Op-Ed: Expand School Choice in New Mexico

K-12 education reform is direly needed in New Mexico. The latest evidence for that is a report from the US Department of Education which studied and ranked 47 of the 50 states’ education systems and found that just 63 percent of New Mexico students in the 2010-2011 school year finished secondary school and the percentages for Hispanic students and Native Americans were 59 and 56 percent respectively.

Those rates earned the Land of Enchantment a ranking of 46th out of 47.

Is anyone in Santa Fe listening? Upon election, Gov. Martinez latched on to “The Florida Model” and has pushed modest reforms like banning 3rd grade social promotion and an “A-F” grading system for New Mexico schools. Those are nice steps, but the education establishment, including the unions, has resisted them at every turn.

What is really needed is broad-based school choice. Our neighbors to the West in Arizona have one model. They have aggressively pursued online learning options for their students and set up privately-funded scholarships funded through state tax credits in order to promote school choice. Students can use their scholarships to choose from an array of parochial and private school options.

A total of 12 states have such programs in place ranging from “blue” Illinois and Rhode Island to Arizona and Indiana. The legislation to set up tax credit programs in New Mexico was sponsored by liberals Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Rep. Moe Maestas.

Choice works in every other aspect of our lives. Children in other states are already benefitting. Legislation setting up tax credit programs will be introduced in the 2013 legislative session. As parents and concerned citizens, we need to get serious about educational choice before we lose another generation of children to a failed system.

Paul Gessing is president of the Rio Grande Foundation

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